Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Ripples in Stillness


When a tree falls in the forest, is it heard...or only happened upon by a wandering onlooker, a seeker, especially tuned to its collapse? Is it felt in the hearts of the forest creatures? Do we feel its violent effects in our hearts out in the world? Where does the rippling of its falling end? When did I stop watching? 

When the awful destruction of December 14th found its way into my life,  I moved forward, storing its reverberations within my deepest memory cells. Not now, I told myself, not now. There was too much ahead of me, I couldn't drop to the floor, crack open and fall apart. I was surrounded by the faces of children, whose innocence, so evident in the previous days in laughter and stories, had now faded to black in the wake of this horrific storm. Sent to a crowded corner, hidden away under a sink, they waited for three hours on that day. We told our stories of bears tromping through the woods, being hunted down to keep us all safe. Kids remembered a lockdown when a bank in town was robbed of a small sum of money. Others were knowing, keeping us safe. We had to allay our fears.

But then, news arrived, and the tree fell hard upon us. Our hearts were shattered and so was that system of innocent thinking we'd all subscribed to...them, because they were young, they'd had no experience with anything of this magnitude, and me, because I was, yes, more life-experienced...but had no capacity for it. I mean, let's face it, I chose Newtown...to raise my family, to live out my career life, to immerse myself in what some call the bucolic, what others call the idyllic, what I think of as a lifestyle of country retreat. The beauty of nature was itself a type of protection. But in that thinking there was something very disturbingly naive. Magical thinking. Could I dare think the sudden and violent fall of a tree such as this would not land in my own back yard, and could not touch me here? 

Hidden away in suburbia, I feasted on the spoils of a quiet, picturesque existence. Stars shone bright in the night sky, birds celebrated the waking of each day. The magnitude of the beauty spoke volumes, erasing any personal tragedy I'd experienced in life, like an Etch-a-sketch, the loss and the depth of feelings attached to it all was somehow suddenly erased. Or so I thought. Grief grows tentacles, it cannot be denied. It ripples in still waters, sometimes unseen, but never forgotten. Age creates opportunity...a chance to revisit, to re-experience the loss. But the heart has to open in order to allow it in. 

I could...go forward, not look back, dare to dream of what's to come. I could deny the fall of the tree, re-envision the future. After all, physically it all looks the same. But then, I look in the mirror, and eyes stare back at me. "Be a soldier," my dad had said...so many years ago. Do soldiers have no feelings? When I was three, my mom died. I remember that hand holding mine. He could not handle my truest feelings, my mommy-lessness. As a child, I had no understanding of it, so I followed his lead. We moved forward, him crying in the night...and me seeing, but not letting him know what I saw. His tree had fallen, his world, the one he'd so carefully created...a new country, a family, a destiny--his dreams of perfection, shattered. Don't cry, don't think about it. Move on. And. So I did. 

And then he died. I was told by my siblings to honor him...move forward, not back. Loss, pile it on, shove it in, pack it away. I moved to Newtown. I started teaching kindergarten. My beautiful sister, one of the strongest advocates of 'block it out', was diagnosed with a cancer that had completely progressed. She cleared her closet, passing on her favorite dresses to me. Her eyes spoke of nostalgia...and in the very end, she allowed a few, just a few, memories to escape. 

Loss is a permanent feature in all our lives. Yesterday a song...the easiest access to the past for me, began to play on Pandora...I Am A Rock, by Simon and Garfunkel played at a time when memories were seeping up, creeping in from below the forest floor. "A rock feels no pain...and an island never cries." Well, by definition, that is what I've been taught. But, as with so many other beliefs I've been taught, I've learned from a very careful group of intimate friends, that perhaps I've been mis-programmed. I am, in reality, not a soldier. I am a seeker. I have the courage and a bit of the wisdom now, that was so sorely lacking before. I know that feeling leads to healing. And so I seek. 

I trek back, writing and journalling, talking through my feelings. I don't linger for so long that I lose sight of where I am now. For there is tremendous beauty in front of me right now at this moment. I fear none of it, because the events of the past are mere bogeymen...they have happened. I am meant to live, and enjoy, and celebrate life. When memories are shut out, a deep darkness coats that forest. When they are brought forward, they allow light and air to come in as well. Love and the chance of it, are in front of me again, and so...hope is too. I wear my green bracelets, my Ben's bells. I have my ribbon, magnetted to the back of my car. So what? I am fearless. I can honor my friend Anne Marie. I can honor my own past and the loss that all this has brought up. 

I can see the light in the forest too. It has a rippling effect too...in fact, my life is dappled in light and dark, just like everyone else's. There is not just one thing, ever. That in itself is naive thinking. Yesterday, I heard another song...ironically, it immediately followed the first; All You Need is Love, by the Beatles, of course. It is the antidote to all. And today, I open the paper to this..."Nostalgia makes us a bit more human." Permission is a powerful thing. By linking back to my past, digging up those reverberations, which are...in truth, still there waiting for me, I can actually be more generous, more kind, more available to others who also feel the same. Grief has tentacles...yes. But the action of grieving, cracking open and feeling the deepest part of the pain, has its rewards. 

This tragedy has reached for those memory cells. I feel them in the deep loss of today. I cannot deny the tree that has fallen, but I can realize the light that dapples this day, and the darkness too, for it will never permanently blacken what lies ahead; it could never block out the rays of the sun. What lies before me has an infinite array of possibilities...both light and dark, but always there is the hope of a baby's laugh, the soft touch of a rose's petal, the fond wrinkled face of a grandma, the sudden smile of the person sitting across from me. That, and the depth of feelings I now choose to employ, sweetens the pot, and allows me to live a very full life with others, not in a void by myself.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Reaching Back

Still and silent
soft and clear,
time lends
a moment,
a tiny crevace.

The heart's
to process
and see...

A face--
taken away.

The mind's eye
But opportunity

Chance allowed none of it.

That creamy face,
the infectious laugh
all gone.

Opportunity vanquished;
lesson learned.

Seeing and longing,
in stillness,
in appreciation
for what once
and what can
no longer

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Chasing Rainbows...and Promises too!

Call me naive. Or...better yet, Pollyanna. But, I'm gonna keep on plugging for rainbows, for My Little Pony, for the Easter Bunny and even for good old St. Nick. And I'm even going to go on promoting the Jolly Green Giant and any other fantasy that has the American child at its heart. I've taken the Sandy Hook Promise. I've promised myself, I will welcome all people and their views, into my life. I will not be deterred.

Chasing Rainbows? You bet. And I think the rest of the world should take it up like it's a full-time sport. If you haven't seen our little starry-eyed Newtown singers, you need to! They are the promise of today, tomorrow, next week and all the years to come. They are the answer to all that's transpired in our sweet little town. They will be our future, and their eyes are focused on us.

Sandy Hook School was the place where I cut my first tooth in the teaching field...well, in reality, I did that a few years before in Bridgeport, CT, teaching hearing impaired kids. At that time, there was a horrible assault on a little sandwich place I frequented, a mob killing, they said. When I was in college, there was an armed robbery in a Subway sandwich shop...the gunman came in just as I made my way out. At the time, I blocked that out completely, and just moved on with my life. After all, this was Bridgeport. And everyone knew crime was a factor there. Horrible. I was twentyish, invincible, or so I thought. I put it outside myself and kept it there. That was how I dealt with my fears.

When I moved to Newtown, CT, I was literally chasing a rainbow. At the time, I had two kids, a dog, and a husband, trying hard to make it in his career. I had a third child and, like many, needed to re-enter the workforce to make ends meet. I was lucky enough to be hired in Newtown, and eventually find my way to that cream-puff school, tucked into a little nook in Sandy Hook. I loved every minute of my time there and so did my three kids!

I loved the parents who were also struggling, two breadwinners to make ends meet. We had the Jolly Green Giant Fair, an annual event with quilts and cake walks and a real giant that kids waited to meet much like they'd waited for Santa! Green footprints were painted along the drive, and as the bus pulled in, little eyes widened anticipating the Giant's arrival in Spring. Kids were thriving...there were cub scouts and brownies, sock hops and potlucks. Life was centered around our kids. And so it's been all these years.

After the recent events, the horror that was inflicted upon our little school...and more importantly the little kids and the wonderful adults who served them, the outpouring of love and good wishes, of luminaries and teddy bears, of crayons and chocolate kisses, the letters and cards...and the prayers, hope began to dig its way back into the heart of our community of Newtown. Intentions and ideals have begun to re-emerge. The Newtown Memorial Fund and the Sandy Hook Promise sprang forth to help our town rebuild. Therapy dogs and a torrent of social workers, counselors and school psychologists have populated our schools. And people here have begun to make a choice about how they will remember and honor those who died, and how they will begin to heal and rebuild their lives.

What is happening here is nothing short of a miracle. I'm not kidding. Like never before, the creative genius of a town is jumping on board. People are coming up with visions for that future. They're setting aside their own political beliefs, their need to be heard, their deep-rooted opinions, and they are opening their minds to what will be best for our kids. You see, here in Newtown, we're repainting our rainbows, and we're setting our sights on love. If nothing else happens here, we'll still know...that our kids watched us and saw that our hope could re-emerge and we could love one another in a way that would transcend this brutal mutilation...because even though the unthinkable happened, we will honor them always through our actions, not our words. And now, all we want for our kids is for them to know love, to hope and to regain that ability to feel safe, a day at a time, like never before.

And now? We need to transcend Newtown...and embrace all our children. Saftety is not a privilege, it is their right. We need to begin again all over, chasing rainbows in Chicago, in Bridgeport, in Los Angeles, in Boston and New York and Dallas, Texas too. Childhood is that one place where human joy and hope is born. Let our babies keep their fantasies. All kids everywhere are entitled to their wonder years.

~~In rememberance of my dear friend Anne...whose courage I never doubted for a minute! Not a day goes by...that I don't think of her and of them all, of the parents and the siblings, the neighbors and friends. Love is all I know, and that is how I choose to live my life for them.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Hanging on Dreams

I am a daydream believer. I busy myself in work-related minutia, but even in the midst of my most ultra-focused days, there are small spaces where my mind takes a small unaccounted for journey. I've always been this way. And thankfully now, I know I'm so not alone. Writers and storytellers, artists of all kinds are just like me. We live half our lives with our heads somewhere in the clouds.

If you tracked my random lapses back to my early classroom years, Mrs. Pastorini and Mrs. O'Grady and all the rest...they all had the same thing to say, 'Lacks focus...a hopeless daydreamer. Hard to keep her on track.' My poor dad always had to listen to that. But no matter what, he always believed in me. He encouraged me with his words and pointed me in the direction of my dreams.

At night, I'd race upstairs, hop into a warm bath and slip into my flannel jammies and wait. Sometimes I'd wait a good half hour lost in my little girl thoughts. My dad and his nighttime stories was what I was waiting for. When the waiting grew long, I'd hop out of bed, kneel up on my low window sill. I'd stare out at the moon and the stars and listen to the crickets below.

I'd think about how when I grew up I would have a little girl, and that little girl would have a horse she could ride every day. I'd think about making her grilled cheese sandwiches and pink lemonade. And I'd think about how some day I'd be a teacher, and I'd stand in front of a class and tell kids all kinds of stories, and how I'd teach them to paint and draw and write letters and words in their books.

And then, my waiting would end...and I'd hear my daddy's uneven footsteps on the stairs. My heart would just about beat outside of my chest. When he got to the landing, he'd say, "Is there a little girl waiting in there?"

I'd scurry under the covers, and bury myself deep underneath. I'd stifle the giggles and keep myself as quiet as a bug. My dad would come in and feel around on top of the covers...and then I'd just burst. There was no way I could keep it all in. He'd sit down on the bed and tell me his stories...of horses and fairies and places far, far away. He'd let me kneel up and feel his starchy collar and sniff his sharp-smelling cologne. I'd pull the pens out of his pocket and click the points in and then out. And when our  time was up and the storytelling was done, he'd tuck me in and pull the covers up under my chin. And I'd look into his eyes and wait. He'd get this little sideways half-serious grin on his face.

"So let me see now...who is the prettiest girl this side of the moon tonight?" My dad's brogue was thick...but hardly noticeable at that time to me.

"Just this side of the moon?" I'd say.
And of course, he'd rub his chin and uncross his leg. He'd shake his head and string me along.

"Well," he'd say, "I guess...I'd have to say the other side of the moon to be fair."

And then I'd play my part, "Well, me, of course!"

He'd wrap his arms around me and pull me in, and say..."Well, we knew that all along."

And then he'd be gone, down the stairs, taking them one at a time, until I couldn't hear him anymore, and I was left in the dark with my dreams...the horses and lemonade and pictures and notebooks filled with letters and words.

And today? There are no horses, but there have been babies and grilled cheese and lemonade. I've been telling my stories and teaching kids to understand the letters and words inside books. I've filled up notebooks upon notebooks with my own words and stories, too. And I've just about finished another manuscript. And I still have so, so many hopes and dreams.

I may not be the prettiest girl this side of the moon for real...my dad, after all, had a very prejudiced eye! But I do love to tell stories just like him. And because his belief in me was so very strong...I've held onto those well-imagined dreams!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

If You Give a Mouse a Fribble...

Friendly's and Fribbles. Oh my gosh, the memories that conjures up inside my head. But when I think about Fribbles (mine were vanilla), I can't help but see the small squared sandwich, the hamburger too. That burger, to me, was something to die for with it's slightly red middle encased in a warm grilled cheese. Who thought of that anyhow? Marrying my two faves: the grilled cheese and the burger in one little warm house. Yum.

Today...MacDonald reigns. And honestly, it did back then when it was just emerging too. We had no burger joints, no shakes, there really was no fast food. It was all slow and freshly prepared and without a doubt much better for you. But then Friendly's came along, and the high school crowd jumped right in. Friendly's had booths, and you could linger over a shake, and that was exactly what we needed back then.

I think about all the high school dances and our trips to Friendly's and the Knotty Pine (Diner) too, and my friends, Debbie and Diane talking late into the night. I remember recapping the evening and almost never wanting to go home. I think about our mini-skirts and boots and our bell bottomed blue jeans, the music, the strobe lights and how giggly and fancy-free we were. In one short year, we'd be off at college and what an enormous shift that would bring.

The point of it all, though, for me as a writer, is the transition of thought to idea, of idea to emotion, of emotion to time travel and how the clear and authentic details resonnate in me. Emotion drives scenes, but details live in the underlayers beneath. Drilling for those strong, authentic details and tapping into the emotions that live there is always the hardest part for me!

I guess the lesson here, lies in the Fribble...not just any milkshake, because mine had a very wide straw. It was frothy and smooth with just the barest lump of vanilla cream (icemilk actually, I think). That Fribble, in its wide clear glass sat on the table...waiting between many long sips, while Deb and Diane and I pieced together all those moments of our life. And once that long, laughable slurp was taken, once we'd picked up our keys and headed home, we'd forged a formidable alliance that no boy, no other group of gossippy girls would ever want to deal with!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Another New Dawning: Keeping the Writing on Track

This morning, I sit here with my cup of hot coffee and I look out the window to see a fresh blanket of snow has covered the ground. I hear the plows out there scraping the roads, paving the way for the morning commute, but I'm not worried about that right now. I know I have an extra ninety minutes to write. Some mornings I journal, mostly to get anything that's playing in my head out there on the page. I want no distractions to defeat me in my work.

But this morning, I'm free of distractions...pretty much anyway. I did check in on school closings, and so I was aware of the morning headlines too. But I didn't linger. I had my assignment in mind.

Setting a deadline has been a great thing for me. It's given me a purpose and forced me to look at things I'd never looked at before: word and page count specifically. I never wanted to be so glossy, so caught up in the specifics of pushing forward like that with my book. One of my writing partners has been nudging me along, though. She's given me a deadline for the first time with this book. Last time we sat down together, I told her I didn't think our deadline was realistic. I mean really...the end of February? C'mon. I have a full time job to do.

She stood firm. I objected...you have this book almost written, I said. You know all your plotlines, your writing comes out perfect from the start. She laughed at me. Yeah, right, she said. Who has it all figured out, really?

I was thinking about that today...as I approached my own work. I realize the pitfall I'd taken and stayed in for years. The US and THEM theory. Others look so great, so polished, so complete. It's been my critic living large and well-inhabited in my brain. I haven't been working, really working on a regular basis, producing pages...I'd been back-tracking again, trying to polish and perfect. So today, as the dawn was breaking, I was pushing my seven not-so perfect pages out there. And I found, just like  I always have, that a lot of gifts come when characters are placed in an uncomfortable situation and allowed the time to interact. Tonight, I may change it up a bit...but tomorrow, I know, I've still got to push forward if I want to make some kind of reasonable point of completion on this.

Life, writing...go figure; an actual deadline would be the thing to get me unstuck! Progress, not perfection is just what I need.

Monday, January 2, 2012

A Welcome Stranger in the Woods

What will inspire you in 2012? Notice...I say 'will.' Are you thinking ahead, standing still or living in the moment like me? I like to live my life in minutes and hours, but sometimes even I have to plan ahead, pack a bag, take a leap and prepare for what's to come.

I've been told writing is like driving in a snowstorm. Sometimes you can only see as far as your headlights will allow. But more often, we can see inklings beyond the headlight's rays, and that is what we are called to do.

If I were to hold up the mirror to myself as a writer, I'd have to say, I've been forging ahead and standing still at the same time. Writing requires a deep well of unrelenting thought. Characters have to be wrestled to the floor, shook out and torn apart almost until they bleed. Sounds graphic and torturous, right? Well...the process itself is. I am haunted and enthused, delighted and annoyed and most often plagued by that awful gnawing doubt that keeps me paralyzed in procrastination, stuck in the quicksand of thought.

Right now, I'm forging ahead. I'm inspired because I've forced myself to revisit and remap my characters' goals, motivations and desires. Instead of writing into a snowstorm, tangible images and ideas have begun to emerge again. And unlike this beautiful stranger in the woods, the patterns and ideas are no longer a big surprise to me. So, just for today, I'm grabbing on...and letting that little bit of inspiration carry me!

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